Chase Elliott didn’t win Sunday’s STP 500, but he once again showed why he might be the most important piece of NASCAR’s youth moment.

The 21-year-old driver finished third, trailing Kyle Busch and race winner Brad Keselowski. In doing so, however, Elliott looked mature beyond his years, at a track that historically isn’t kind to young drivers.

Stage racing has produced the type of aggressive racing many thought it would, and that once again was the case Sunday. Whether at the end of a stage or off a restart, drivers are pushing hard to get vital playoff points. Collisions in these situations have ended plenty of drivers’ afternoons.

But Elliott, and many of his young peers, have been more than up to the task, and often have excelled at the end of stages.

With a third-place finish Sunday, Elliott now has three top-five finishes and four top tens on the season. He still doesn’t have a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race victory in his career, but after qualifying for the Chase last season, Elliott has picked up right where he left off, entering Sunday ranked second in the Cup points standings.

Ahead of him? Kyle Larson, 24, who looks like one of the most talented drivers NASCAR has seen in years.

Also entering Sunday in the top ten of the points standings were 23-year-old Ryan Blaney in seventh, and Joey Logano in fifth. Despite the perception that he’s been around forever, Logano still is just 26 years old, and is very much an important piece of NASCAR’s future.

Furthermore, rookie drivers Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez also entered Sunday in the top 20, and have looked more than capable of competing at the cup level. All of these drivers, with the exception of Blaney and Suarez, finished in the top 20 Sunday.

Still, it’s all about Elliott.

Filling Jeff Gordon’s shoes at Hendrick Motorsports surely wasn’t easy, but he’s handled it admirably. Being a consistent top-10 finisher — particularly at 21 years old — also is incredibly difficult, yet Elliott is doing it now, and looks like he will for years to come.

Thumbnail photo via Michael Shorter/USA TODAY Sports Images